Rachel Ignotofsky



I am so happy to present to you today my latest in my series of Interviews with People I Admire, the amazing Rachel Ignotofsky, who has just published her first book through Ten Speed Press entitled Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. I love this book not only because it focuses on often-hidden-from-history female scientists, but also because it’s beautifully researched, written and illustrated. This book is for all ages, but as Rachel points out in the interview, it’s especially awesome for young girls and teens who are interested in science. A book of brilliant role models for girls? Sign me up!

Rachel is an accomplished illustrator, who has worked for many impressive clients. Her career began right out of college as a designer at Hallmark. Now freelancing full time, Rachel’s work is inspired by history and science. She believes that illustration is a powerful tool that can make learning exciting. She has a passion for (and is incredibly good at) taking dense information and making accessible for readers young and old alike! Want to learn more about Rachel and her book? Ready, set, go…

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Lisa: Tell us about you! What’s your background? Where are you from? How did you become an illustrator and author?

Rachel: I was born and raised in New Jersey and I have been drawing ever since I can remember. In high school I decided to seriously become an illustrator and started prepping my portfolio for art school. I went to Tyler School of Art and graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design. Right out of school I was hired by Hallmark and moved to Kansas City, where I am based now. I left Hallmark to pursue my real passion, which was scientific illustration. I have always had a passion for history and science and now I dedicate myself to creating educational artwork that is both fun and jammed packed with information.

Although drawing came really naturally to me, reading was a different story. I was an incredibly slow reader in elementary school. It really wasn’t until I started reading densely illustrated books like Amelia’s Notebook, educational comic books and cartoons like Magic School Bus, that I gained my own love of learning. I wanted to make the same kind of books that I had so much fun reading as a kid and think are important as an adult. I always had in the back of my mind that my illustrations were part of a larger book project and when the opportunity came knocking I was ready.


{This is Rachel!}

Lisa: How did this book come to be?

Rachel: I was thinking a lot about why science and engineering is still considered such a “boys club.”  I have a lot of friends in education and we were talking about the massive gender gap in STEM fields even though girls test just as well as boys do in math and science.  I truly believe that one of the best ways to fight gender bias like this is by introducing young adults to strong female role models.

I started to dig and I was overwhelmed by the amount of female scientist who have contributed just as much (if not more) as Einstein or Tesla. but have landed in obscurity. So I decided to use my illustrations to help celebrate women and their accomplishments. Illustration is a powerful tool when it comes to telling stories.  I wanted this book to not only be educational but also have tons of illustrations, so the reader really has fun while they are learning. My hope for my book is to help make these women household names and encourage girls to follow always their passions.

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I love learning about the mechanics of how your world works. Ever since my high school human anatomy class I was seriously hooked on science. Whether or not you are going to pursue a STEM career, knowing how our world works empowers people to make educated decisions. Whether it is how the lights turn on, or why it rains outside, or why use tooth paste, it is all important. But I think people get scared when approaching dense subjects. A lot of kids and adults hear “astrophysics” or “x-ray crystallography” and think “Woah! That is too smart for me.” Through art work I want to take those subjects and make them accessible and fun! If you can make learning easy, all of the sudden people get the courage to learn even and all of the sudden they realize that they are capable of understanding even the densest subjects.

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Lisa: What was the most exciting, enjoyable part of the process of making the book? Conversely, what was the most difficult or frustrating?

Rachel: I loved learning these women’s stories. You read about everything the accomplished, the lives they saved and how much they had to overcome to contribute and you just feel so indebted to them. And of course the drawings, I always have a lot of fun with that.

I think the most frustrating things was figuring out who I was as a writer, what habits and what organizational systems work for me. It was the first time I ever authored anything. Whether or not I am “feeling creative” I can do a really cool illustration, because I have been doing it for so long. I just have the years of practice under my belt that help make good decisions while I work. That is not the case with writing. A good day means good writing and a bad day means bad writing. I learned a lot of little things, like I write best in the morning, or after a big meal. Silly stuff like that makes the world of difference when you are trying to churn out 500-1000 words a day. I bet in ten years it’ll come as naturally as drawing does, but until then I am going to wake up and eat a lot of pancakes and coffee to get creativity going.

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Lisa: Which of the women in the book surprised you the most?

Rachel: I think one of the most shocking stories was Lisa Meitner. Just how much she had to overcome and that she still made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science, Fission. She would be forced flee Germany when the Nazi came into power because she was Jewish. At the time Lise was trying to discover a new heavy element with her lab partner Otto Hahn. They were smashing neutrons against uranium and the result they were getting were out of the ordinary. Although she found asylum in Sweden she did not want to leave her work in Germany behind.

She wrote secret letters to Otto to continue their work. When Otto did not understand the results of their experiment he wrote to Lise. She realized they were in fact stretching the nucleus apart and releasing nuclear energy! Her discovery of fission changed physics, energy and history forever. It is amazing, after all she went through it was her sheer love of science that kept her working, and allowed her to contribute greatly to the world, even if it was in secret. She could not return to Germany and was not included in the Nobel Prize for her discovery.

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Lisa: Which one woman in the book would you most like to have dinner with and why?

Rachel: Ooh, that is a good one. I think Sylvia Earle is one of my top picks. She is the marine biologist who broke the depth record for an untethered dive and has explored so much of our deep ocean. I would love to hear more about her life time of work, from living on tektite II under water for weeks, to when she was called the “sturgeon general” at NOAA, to her main project now called Mission Blue. Mission Blue is a conservation project much like the protected parks, but instead it is protected parts of the ocean. We get most of our oxygen from the ocean, and a healthy ocean is essential to our survival. She is working to try and stop the over fishing and pollution that is damaging the ocean’s ecosystems. Sylvia Earle’s research and photography has made even the deepest parts of the ocean more accessible, it is just fascinating!

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Lisa: I know the book is for everyone, but who do you most hope reads this book?

Rachel: I think middle school girls and boys. Middle school is that important age where you are start figuring out who you want to become. I think it is essential for both boys and girls to have strong female role models growing up. Children need to know that they can pursue their passions and make a real impact on this world regardless of gender.

Lisa: What do you hope people take away from the book?

Rachel: That women in the sciences is not something new. That throughout history women have been working hard and greatly contributing to progress. I am hoping that my book is part of a larger movement to make these historic women’s stories more available and help to normalize women in stem fields and positions of power. when a little girl closes her eyes, and imagines what a scientist looks like, she can see herself.

Lisa: Thank you, Rachel!! You are so inspiring!! And I love this book. Friends, you can get Women in Science here or at all major book sellers!


George McCalman


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I am so thrilled to share with you my most recent recorded interview — this one with my friend George McCalman, one of the most prolific and inspiring artists living today. After fourteen years as an art director in the magazine industry, working for publications like ReadyMade, Mother Jones, and Entertainment Weekly, George opened his freelance design studio in 2011. Now, in addition to design, George is also channeling his creative juju and enormous talent into hand drawn and painted illustration and type. He uses this enormous talent not only to work for clients, but also to document his life and passions through personal projects. We sat down and talked about his roots, what inspires him, the recent changes in his path and what he’s learned about what makes him tick creatively over the years. George is a fantastic conversationalist, and I know you will be inspired by his attitude and story. Just click play on the MP3 player below and enjoy photos of George’s work below (much of which we refer to in the interview). A great place to follow George is on Instagram, where he openly shares his creative process and work. I present to you the latest in my Interviews with people I Admire series, George McCalman!










Samantha Hahn



Friends, I am so excited to launch the next phase of Interviews with People I Admire: recorded interviews! I’m not calling this a podcast (you won’t find links to the interviews anywhere but on my blog for now). But it’s a format I’m testing out for the time being. I think recorded interviews will give you a richer perspective into the creative process of the folks I feature here!

Today I am so happy to share an interview with my good friend, Illustrator Samantha Hahn. Samantha is an illustrator from Brooklyn, New York, best known for her beautiful ethereal watercolor portraits of the female figure. Not surprisingly, many of her clients include iconic fashion industry labels and magazines like Marc Jacobs, J Crew, Glamour, Elle, Marie Claire — the list goes on and on. She is also the author of two gorgeous books, Well Read Women and A Mother is a Story. Below I have shared photos of her latest book and some of her work so you can get a flavor for her style.

In the interview Samantha and I talk about her work and inspiration, but most interestingly, about “the other side of success” — what happens when you work hard to pursue a career in illustration and then, as you’d always dreamed of, you become a busy illustrator. We discuss what we thought that would look like for us and what the realities have ended up being.

Just click on the play button below to begin listening! The interview is about 53 minutes long.

Samantha’s latest gorgeous new book: A Mother is a Story (and the companion journal).

A Mother is a Story and Stories for my Child_ journal and book coverSamantha Hahn

Samantha’s first book, Well Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heriones

well read women COVER

Images from the interior of A Mother is a Story:






Tara Rodden Robinson // On Productivity



Last year I received an email from a woman named Tara. She’d just written a book about productivity for women, and she was contacting me to inquire if I’d read her manuscript and write a blurb for the back of the book. Normally, unless I know the person or are familiar already with their work, I turn down such inquiries. I get them a lot, and mostly I just don’t have the time. But something intrigued me about Tara’s request, so I took a quick peek at her manuscript. I knew after reading the first few paragraphs, that I needed to explore this book further.

I’m a person who literally battles with productivity — and not because I’m unproductive. I battle because my notions about what it means to be productive are far beyond what I can typically accomplish in a day. So I end most days feeling overwhelmed, inept and without a sense of closure. Then, I get up the next day, and I do it all over again. I often put off the stuff I long to do for “when I have time.” I’m often so singularly focused on making my way through my to-do list that I even experience periods when even my work (which is making art, should be fun, right?) feels like wading through thick, waist-deep mud. Time feels scarce and spending time doing what I look forward to most becomes something I’ll do “when I have time” (aka: never anytime soon!).

So when I began reading Tara’s manuscript, my first reaction was: “She’s talking about me! She’s talking to me!” Tara — a former Getting Things Done guru — writes about her own difficult but enlightening journey from stressed out workaholic toward becoming a woman who has a healthy relationship with time. The work she did to redefine the notion of time and productivity for herself combined with evidence based research on time and productivity are the foundations for the book. She lays out a number of basic principles and actionable exercises that are intended help other women think and act in new ways to lead lives filled with more equanimity and joy.

I took the manuscript with me to a residency last August and decided then and there as I read it that I had to forge a new path in my own relationship to my “crazy busy schedule.” Getting myself “unburied” is something I’ve been working on for years (and have even written about on this blog). I’ve found Tara’s work extremely helpful in that quest. I still have a long way to go, but the small changes I’ve made already (some in my actions, some simply in how I view time), have been life altering.

The blurb I ended up writing for Tara? You can see it here:


I sat down with Tara last week and asked her about time and productivity and the ideas in her new book. If you struggle with your relationship with time (and productivity) I hope you will read this interview and take a look at Tara’s new book, Sexy + Soul-full.

I present to you my latest in my Interviews with People I Admire series: an interview with Tara Rodden Robinson.


Lisa: Hello, and thank you for sharing with us today! What makes your guide to productivity different than anything else that’s out there?

Tara: Sexy + Soul-full is a fully feminine, heart-felt approach to productivity. Nowhere will you find anyone else who speaks about topics like shame and wonder, infertility and career change, menopause and self care in a book on productivity! I intentionally shared my own story because I want my readers to see the authentic struggles that all women, including myself, go through. Ultimately, I want women to feel empowered to claim their loves—their dreams, aspirations, joys, and relationships—and to possess the skills and know-how to make time for those loves, unapologetically and joyfully.

Another thing that sets Sexy + Soul-full apart is it’s a quirky mix of right-brained creativity with a tasty helping of left-brained research geekery. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of who I am as a person. My often counter-intuitive productivity advice is drawn from actual scientific studies. That means the reader gets fresh, evidence-based approaches to solving the time crunch problem rather than just another tired rehash of tips and tricks that provide only temporary relief.


{Tara with the piece of art she made that become the cover of her book // photo by Godofredo Vasquez for the Corvallis Gazette-Times.}

 Lisa: Who is this book for?

Tara: It’s is for any woman who wants to make time for what she loves and the relationships that mean the most to her. My readers include everyone from working moms, women going back to school, mid-career executives, creative entrepreneurs, artists, and retirees who are looking for the next big adventure for the second half of their lives.

Lisa: Do women struggle more than men in their relationship with time? If so, why?

Tara: I’m not sure that women struggle more than men in their relationship with time but there’s good evidence that most women carry substantially greater workloads than men do. Among heterosexual couples, on average, the woman works twice as many hours at home doing chores and childcare than the man does. Even among couples where both help, women still carry a greater burden of the workload than men do.

I’m not a social scientist so I can’t really speak to what the roots of this lingering inequality are, but the demands on women’s time are quite different. My hypothesis is that some of this arises from differences in what men and women prioritize. Men tend to prioritize work, competition, and status seeking while women generally place a higher value on relationships, collaboration, and care taking.

Certainly, women have expectations of themselves that men don’t. We are often socialized to be pleasing to others, making it harder for us to set boundaries on our time and to say ‘no.’ Many women struggle with perfectionism and identify themselves with their accomplishments. Drawing self-worth from achievement has obvious implications for how we spend our time.


Lisa: Most of us can relate to this idea that we’ll get to the stuff we really want to do later – when we have “more time.” You believe that this idea of scarcity around time is actually false – that, in fact, it’s a myth! Tell us why that’s true & how changing our relationship to time can allow us to live with more equanimity.

Tara: Yes, the notion “I will have more time later” is the first of the three destructive myths about time that I identify in the book. This is one of most common beliefs about time that, deep down, everyone knows isn’t true! It’s easy to fall into this trap because “now” is clearly so full of demands but if you look at your calendar far enough in the future, your schedule probably looks pretty open. When those dates roll around, though, you’re just a busy then as you were in the past.

The bigger lie is that of scarcity. I learned to reject scarcity by reading Lynne Twist’s incredible book, The Soul of Money. Twist points out that our entire society is in the grip of this notion that there’s not enough to go around. But when we start to examine the underlying assumptions of that belief, it just doesn’t hold water. I won’t go into all of Twist’s arguments here, but suffice it to say, her book rocked my world.

As a result, I came to realize that the entire field of personal productivity is rooted in this lie of scarcity. The presupposition is that time is scarce, there is not enough of you to go around, and you must scratch and claw to get enough of the finite resource of time. But the truth is: Time is an infinitely renewable and inexhaustibly abundant resource. Not only that, but our brains actually create our experiences of time! Armed with that knowledge, I came to realize it’s possible to have a sustainable, unrushed lifestyle that includes a much more spacious relationship with time.

Lisa: You know I’m a big goal setter. Explain the difference between traditional goal-setting and making what you call a “heart-centered plan” for your life?

Tara: As I say in the book, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with goal-setting. Part of my problem with the way goals are usually set out is that the result is so binary: you failed or you succeeded. Life, on the other hand, is this heady mix of lessons, joys, disappointments, progress, and luck. What I know for sure is we can control our efforts but we can’t control our outcomes. So instead of getting fixated on desired results, I suggest focusing attention on making sincere and devoted effort and receiving results—all of them—with gratitude. I wanted to present an alternative way of making plans that acknowledged how richly textured life actually is.

Lisa: Most of us would say that love is our highest priority, but our choices and actions do not bear that out. What does it really mean to live with love as your highest priority? What do we have to give up to get there? What do we gain?

Tara: I think we often over-prioritize things that, in the long run, don’t really matter. When I was a university professor, I would watch colleagues falling all over themselves to reach for the next accomplishment when they hadn’t even celebrated the last one. I was like that, too—I put career achievement ahead of everything: having kids, caring for my health, investing in relationships. I finally realized that my achievements weren’t going to provide any comfort to me when I was at the end of my life. My relationships, on the other hand, clearly have lasting significance and meaning. So part of the answer about living with love as the highest priority is about investing ourselves in our relationships with family and friends.

The other piece of piece of the puzzle is actually doing what we say we care about doing. Years ago, I interviewed novelist Susan Straight and something she told me has always stuck with me. She writes all her novels on little scraps of paper in teensy found moments throughout the day. She’s written nine books! She cares about being a novelist and she walks her talk by prioritizing writing. Most people have space in their days like this to invest themselves in something they find meaningful. Even if it’s a small action, those small actions accumulate.

In terms of what we have to give up, it’s a bit paradoxical but sometimes it’s about letting go of our own priorities. I know it sounds weird but my own experience bears this out. When I’m too hooked into having my own way and holding onto my time as precious, I become impatient and selfish. One of the counter-intuitive bits of advice I give in the book is to learn how to welcome interruptions with gratitude. There’s research behind this approach but my insights on it originally came from being a caregiver for my elderly mom. I found that when I welcome unexpected events (even the really hard ones) with gratitude, my heart stays open and I experience equanimity. I’m more resilient and more generous. Someday, when my mom is no longer living, I know being like this will mean even more to me than it does now.

Ultimately, I think we gain a life well-lived. One of my friends paid me a huge compliment a while back. She said that I was someone who was fully present for my life, not just going through the motions, but really engaged and really alive. There are no guarantees, obviously, but I’d rather bet on love and put my best effort toward love as my highest priority.

Lisa: Thank you so much for sharing your book with the world, Tara! You can find Tara’s book here or wherever books are sold.


Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge


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{Grace Bonney with her wife Julia Turshen and their dog Hope!}

I first met Grace Bonney ten years ago in 2006. We were both starting out in our respective paths — Grace had begun writing a design blog called Design*Sponge, and I’d just begun making a go at being a professional artist. The worlds of blogging and art on the internet were really small back then — and so, of course, our paths inevitably crossed. And, over the past ten years, we’ve become friends and during many big life events, confidants. I have always admired Grace for her approach to blogging and to living her life. She is refreshingly brave, straightforward and honest and, in a world of fluff, she has continued to produce rich, meaningful content for over 10 years. Knowing Grace in person, I am pretty sure this comes from a sense of responsibility for the integrity of what she puts into the world. This has never been more apparent than in the past several years. In that time, Grace came out publicly as a lesbian. Instead of doing business as usual, she has used her new lens on the world to reshape how she approaches her content to reflect the rich diversity of the design community. I talked to Grace recently about this shift, about ten years of blogging, and about her openness. I am so honored to present to you my latest (and my first for 2016) interview in my Interviews with People I Admire Series: Grace Bonney!


{Grace reflects on 100 podcast episodes}

Lisa: Grace, you are one of a handful of women who I think of as the “mothers of design blogging”. You’ve been at this for 10 years and have stayed with it through the changing landscape. Talk briefly about that changing landscape. What was blogging like then and what is blogging like now? What are some of the things that have changed? What challenges do you face now that you didn’t face in 2005?

Grace: I think it’s probably easier to talk about what hasn’t changed. Over the past 11 years of blogging, everything has shifted, from what readers expect to how often we need to post to the entire financial structure supporting online publishing. For me, the biggest struggle is related to how to maintain some sort of a separation between church and state, meaning the integrity of editorial content and the world of ‘native’ advertising (sponsored posts, etc.). The bottom line is that I will always go to battle to protect our editorial voice and preserve its authenticity and openness. But I also want to pay everyone who works for us a living wage. It’s a daily battle, but one I’m thankful for. I realize things could be much, much worse.


{Grace’s Biz Ladies series is one of the longest running business series for women on the internet}

Lisa: Amidst some of the changes on the most recent years, I know you were feeling a great deal of angst and frustration – you even questioned whether to stay in it. But, thankfully for all of us, you did! And you made some really conscious choices about what you were going to change about your blog, including making a concerted effort for your content and contributors to reflect the rich diversity of the art & design community, something that has been severely lacking in the design blogosphere since its inception. Tell us more about that effort and how it’s changed your blog (and I think the world) for the better.

Grace: I could talk about this all day every day. Coming out (privately in 2011 and publicly in 2013) dramatically affected the way I saw the world and how I experienced almost all information (both news and entertainment) I consumed. I felt much more comfortable, welcomed and included when I saw more out queer people in the design/fashion/lifestyle world and it made me realize what a poor job I was doing of representing all of our community on Design*Sponge. I had a million excuses in my head but not a single one was valid. The bottom line was that I needed to better serve our community and make sure everyone reading felt welcomed, represented and at home. So ever since that moment we’ve worked harder to make sure our content celebrates everyone in our community. Visual representation is a huge part of it, but it’s also about giving people a platform to tell their own stories in their voices. That effort lead to my new book, In The Company of Women, which is coming out this fall. I wanted to see a business/inspiration book that looked like all of the women I knew and admired- not just the ones that fit a certain stereotype perpetuated by the media. I’m so proud of this book and hope that everyone reading will see themselves reflected in one, if not all, of the women in its pages.

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Lisa: Hearing you say this gives me chills! And every time I look at the front page of your blog, I feel it too. So thank you! Next, tell us about your latest book. This book is a labor of love for you, and it’s not entirely design-focused. It’s about actual human beings – a diverse set of women who are exceptionally smart and talented and who have created thriving businesses — in the arts, writing, photography, food, design, acting, and on and on. Why was this the book you wanted to make? And what’s it been like to make it so far? What are your hopes for the book’s impact?

Grace: I was actually under contract to create a massive DIY encyclopedia but my heart wasn’t in it. I kept talking to my wife, Julia about what I actually wanted to do and she said, “Why don’t you ask if you can change it?” I was about to give my advance back when Julia offered to help with a revised book proposal. I turned it in, hoped for the best, and thankfully my publisher, Lia Ronnen, believed in the idea and let me switch topics at the last minute. So I spent my summer traveling across the country with (photographer) Sasha Israel and our project manager, Kelli Kehler, photographing these amazing women and interviewing them in person. I hope the book is something people can return to over and over throughout their lives and their careers when they need inspiration, motivation and ideas that will help them find the courage to do what they love- on their own terms. These women are incredible, but still relatable, examples of what women can do when they’re in charge of their work and their career trajectories. This is, without a doubt, my favorite project I’ve ever had the honor of working on at DS.


{Some of the amazing women being featured in Grace’s next book}

Lisa: I am always very moved by your courage to write about things in your personal life – like coming out a few years ago, navigating the world of haters, your fears about becoming more at ease in your life and how that might affect your business. Why is it important to write about the stuff that’s personal or scary from time to time – not just for you personally, but for your community of readers?

Grace: I think it’s important for me because I enjoy connecting to people online. I’ve never been someone who had a ton of close friends growing up and connecting- and trusting- other people has always been a challenge for me. Being open and honest online is one way (but I’m sure there are others) that lets me find people who share the same interests, values and ideas. We may not always agree, but the friendships I’ve made online (through being myself and staying open and honest) have been the strongest of my life so far. I don’t think it’s by any means required that all bloggers share personal things, but I think it’s a powerful way to make these connections if that’s what drives and interests you. I think there a million places (thankfully) to find great design advice, cool new shops and interviews, but those personal stories and moments are the truly unique things we have to offer, if that’s what we feel comfortable with.

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{Design Sponge Life & Business column is one of my favorites}

Lisa: I am always interested in how busy, productive women in leadership roles stay grounded in the midst of deadlines and managing both people and content. I know you’ve been working really hard to have more (for lack of a better word) “balance” in your life. How do you balance your life between relaxation/human connection and the crazy amount work that you manage every day to write a popular blog and a giant book. What wisdom do you have for my readers about what’s working for you? What have you had to give up? What have you gained?

Grace: I think it’s a constant struggle, period. There is no perfect place where you have it all figured out and where everything works. There are moments when things feel like clockwork and it all comes together in a smooth, seemingly (but not actually) effortess moment, but there will always be the moments when things smash together in one giant explosion and you have to rebuild and re-learn things. I’ve learned to expect those ups and downs and see them as a way, and an invitation, to learn something new, try a new method of getting something done and to discover a new part of myself I didn’t know existed before. Working on the internet will always keep you on your toes. But I’m really thankful for that- I love having to think on my feet and be open to change. I don’t want to miss out on anything life has to offer, and in my experience, some of the best moments exist in those shaky, wobbly fresh starts.


{Another thing I love: DIY has always been a part of Design*Sponge}

Lisa: What can we look forward to on Design*Sponge in 2016?

Grace: So much! I feel like this year feels scary and new in all the best ways. I’m launching a print project, our new book and book tour and lots of new online content and new voices being added to the site. I’m ready for 2016 and I can’t wait to start working.

Lisa: Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me for the past 11 years! I can’t wait to see everything you do over the next 11.